Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
If you monitor the news, you are aware that these are not the best of times for many college graduates. Not for everyone, however. While earning a college degree greatly improves job prospects, an average of 8.8 percent of college graduates are unemployed. The figure is worse for high school graduates who do not plan to enroll in college. Almost a third in that category are looking for work. If there is no work for teenagers, what can we expect them to do? The answer does not make your day.
Makes one think about the times in the past when college graduates were certain of a job — it was only a matter of choosing the best opportunity in the most desired location. When I picked up my college diploma in the ’60s, there was no concern about finding a job. I simply wanted one in Athens. That was the only requirement.
For the last several years, I have had an exposure to college kids with an interest in part-time work. These kids were very good because they were responsible, conscientious, and productive. They were willing to take on any chore. College students are fun to be around. They liven up the day with their energy, smiles, and eagerness.
Audrey Trammell, a pretty coed from Fayetteville, worked in my office for three years, brightening everybody’s day with her delightful attitude. When she wasn’t in class or pitching in at our office, she sought babysitting opportunities.
While attending various events at the Athens Country Club, I noticed a nice young staff assistant whose name is Keri Butler. Keri grew up in Dearborn, Mich. As time went by, we began to talk and I discovered that she was married right out of high school to a young man who had a military commitment, which moved them about. She began taking college courses wherever they located. Then he, through an association with a friend from Gwinnett County, moved South and became a fireman.
Then came a divorce. “These things happen,” she said ruefully. She settled in nearby Jefferson and, with initiative and purpose, she enrolled at the University of Georgia, made the house payments and underwrote the cost of her education, which was consummated with a degree in biological science in June. Now she is grouped with the 8.8 percent of college graduates looking for a job.
I’m betting that she will be one of the lucky ones. She has proven that her enterprising attitude and work ethic will make her a productive employee. Her experience at a social club has given her an exposure to a variety of personalities. Getting along with people and providing service with a smile have been part of her work routine for more than three years. She was not content with one degree, so she enrolled at Brenau in Gainesville for a master’s degree in project management.
“I have always enjoyed school so much,” she says. “The learning experience is so rewarding. I know I can’t go to college forever, but sometimes I think that would not be a bad life.”
Along the way, she knew that she would have to support herself. Wherever she has lived, she has found work. When she was a teenager in Dearborn, she got a job bagging groceries. At age 16, she became a lifeguard.
She has found Athens to be a place of excitement. “The university,” she smiles, “is a big campus but it has a ‘small’ feel. It offers so much to the serious student. Athens, to me, is a young town, and I have never met anyone who didn’t like it once they spend time here.”
The music scene and Georgia football are attractions she is fond of, but these pastimes never became part of her social agenda. “It was hard for me to go out at night after work. I had to study. I couldn’t go to football games because I was always working — but I love the Dawgs.” Her job search is focused on Atlanta. She wants to remain in the South, appreciating the people and the weather. The view here is that her enterprise will make a difference in her job aspirations.
In two months there will be a new freshman class in college towns everywhere. Meet the students and get to know them. They’ll keep you young and refreshed. You are always sad when those like Keri move on, but you happily watch them leave, as they allow opportunity to improve themselves and make the most of what life has to offer. There will be a Keri Butler in the class of ’16. Bet on it.
Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.